PAPEETE BUSINESSES PROTEST PORT BLOCKADE

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PAPEETE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, June 17) – Papeete's business leaders made history Friday when they staged a procession of delivery trucks through the streets of downtown to protest the latest strike blockade of the Port of Papeete area, which ended its third day with no signs of a settlement.

The business leaders' procession stopped first in front of the French High Commissioner's Office and then in front of the offices of French Polynesia President Oscar Temaru. Despite separate meetings with both French state officials and Temaru, the business leaders left with no signs of progress, leading them to threaten closing their businesses on Monday and laying off workers for economic reasons.

Some of the businesses represented in the procession are inside the area cut off by the blockades set up and enlarged since Wednesday by government employees who man the administrative fleet of cargo ships. They are on strike calling for the Temaru government to apply all of the terms agreed to in January following a round of negotiations.

The blockade has cut off road access to the Port of Papeete's international and inter-island ship wharves, warehouses, fuel storage tanks for service stations and aviation fuel, stevedoring companies, the Papeete Port Authority, shipyards, government offices and a variety of businesses in the capital's Fare Ute industrial area.

While each new day of the strike blockade threatened to become an increasingly crippling economic handicap for local businesses, the economic consequences also threatened to extend into the outer islands as shipping became increasingly difficult to organize.

A sympathy strike by commercial fisherman during the first two days ended Friday after apparent fruitful negotiations Wednesday night between union officials and French Polynesia Vice President/Finance Minister Jacqui Drollet.

However, on Friday, the fishing boats and ships that had blocked other vessels from entering or leaving Papeete Harbor were replaced by the government cargo ships manned by the strikers maintaining the road blockade of the port area.

Although the strike has been declared illegal in court and heavy fines have been announced for three union members, the French state, which has the power to intervene to end the blockades, has preferred to try and negotiate a settlement rather than provoke a confrontation between police and strikers.

The business leaders announced Friday a deadline of midnight Sunday for ending the blockades. If that deadline is not met, they threatened to keep their businesses closed on Monday. And employees will not be paid because they cannot get to work because of the blockades, the business leaders said.

Besides repeatedly saying they were fed up with a series of strike blockades over the past two years, the business leaders also constantly told the news media that the economic situation in Tahiti is not good because of such events as the blockades.

June 19, 2006

Tahitipresse: http://www.tahitipresse.pf/index.cfm?lang=2

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